Breaking the Gaza Blockade
Update: The "Free Gaza and Liberty" human rights boats are leaving Gaza. They are carrying several Palestinians. It is unclear what action Israel will take.
GAZA, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Two boats carrying International pro-Palestinian activists will leave Gaza for Cyprus on Thursday, together with several stranded students and patients aboard.
Among the Palestinian passengers, who have been denied Israeli exit visas, are Said Mosleh, a 10-year-old boy who lost a leg to an Israeli tank shell, his father, and five members of the Darwish family who plan to join relatives in Cyprus.
"I can't believe we're finally able to leave for medical treatment," stated Khaled Mosleh. "We will break the blockade so my son can get a prothesis."
The Free Gaza protest group held a press conference on Wednesday to make their plans public.
The Free Gaza Movement held a press conference in Gaza City Wednesday to announce that the two boats which arrived in Gaza Port on Saturday via carrying several dozen mostly Western activists will leave on Thursday carrying with it Palestinian students with valid foreign visas or dual citizenships who have been accepted to study abroad, a Palestinian professor returning to teach in Europe, and a young woman who will meet her husband abroad, the Jerusalem Post reported.
It was unclear whether Israeli authorities would order the boats stopped and searched, wanting to avoid a media feeding frenzy. The activists reject Israel's right to stop the boats.
Two restored fishing boats carrying 40 members of the US-based Free Gaza protest group are heading towards Gaza's territorial waters in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Israel has said that "all options" were being considered to prevent the protest, delivery of 200 hearing aids and 5000 balloons.
Cartoon: Breaking the Siege
Update: The vessels have arrived safely in Gaza. The Israeli government decided to play nice and avoid a potential PR disaster.
The Palestinians in Gaza don't get many visitors. That's because the Israelis have imposed an air, land and sea blockade since 2007 when Islamic militants seized control of the coastal strip on the Mediterranean, making it impossible for friends to just drop by. So when two vessels loaded with 46 peace activists arrived on Saturday, thousands of Palestinians lined the harbor in a party mood. Fishing scows honked their foghorns and swarms of kids swam out to the arriving boats just as the sun was turning the water to molten reds and gold.
Death treats, Israeli spies and even a mysterious drowning have marred the preparation for this protest.
The activists, who hail from 14 countries, said that before they even set sail, they faced anonymous death threats, the mysterious drowning of one potential sponsor, and constant badgering by Israeli spies badly disguised as guitar-strumming hippies. "They kept popping up, everywhere," said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, an organizer. "They were really annoying."
Time reports that, a "bizarre" communication blackout caused by lsraeli electronic jamming prevented the boats from meeting a ship of journalists.
The efforts that the Israeli government has taken to stop and limit media coverage of two aging fishing boats and their aging peacenik crews from taking this action, shows that such actions are worthwhile.
Sadly there was only one Israeli aboard.
As Jeff Halper, the sole Israeli aboard the "Free Gaza" flotilla, says: "We didn't have anybody famous. It was old-fashioned 'people power.' We just wanted to show what happens when ordinary people from around the world get together to try breaking this immoral siege on Gaza."
Once at sea, the activists — who include an 81-year old nun, a Greek leftist parliamentarian and the sister-in law of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair — braved a squall and a bizarre communications blackout, which they say was caused by lsraeli electronic jamming, and which thwarted a rendezvous in heaving seas between peace activists and a ship of journalists.
Below is a statement from the US-based Free Gaza protest group.
Any action designed to harm civilians constitutes collective punishment (in the Palestinians’ case, for voting the “wrong” way) and is both illegal under international law and profoundly immoral.
Our mission is to expose the illegality of Israel’s actions, and to break through the siege in order to express our solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza (and of the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole) and to create a free and regular channel between Gaza and the outside world.
Israel warns boat-borne activists
Two vessels left Cyprus for the 30-hour journey to the Gaza Strip [AFP]
Israel has issued a tough warning to members of the Free Gaza protest group not to break the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Two vessels carrying about 40 members of the US-based group, including an 81-year-old Catholic, were expected to arrive in Gaza on Saturday.
But Israel's foreign ministry said it was closely monitoring the 70-foot Free Gaza and 60-foot Liberty boats left the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Friday.
"We will make sure that this provocation is not taking place," Aviv Shiron, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, said.
He said that "all options" were being considered to prevent the protest.
A Jerusalem-based spokeswoman for the group said early on Saturday that the two converted fshing boats were just hours away from entering Gaza's territorial waters.
"They are out there. They are two hours away from the point they were aiming for before they enter Gaza territorial waters," Angela Godfrey-Goldstein said.
"They made very good progress for the night and everyone is fine," she said, although co-ordinators on land were having problems communicating with the boats via on-board satellite phones.
Several dozen people, mostly reporters, gathered at Gaza City's main port to await the arrival of the boats, which are sailing under Greek flags.
Al Jazeera's Ashrif Amritti, reporting from Gaza Strip, said that Palestinian vessels would attempt to travel out to sea to meet the activists.
The activists plan to deliver 200 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity for children and hand out 5,000 balloons.
Before setting sail from Larnaca on Friday they said that they hoped other groups would follow their example.
The activists are delivering hearing aids and balloons [AFP] "I've been nervous, but today I'm excited,'' said Lauren Booth, 41, an activist and sister-in-law of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister.
"It's not about our fear, it's about the people waiting in Gaza, you can't think about anything else."
Paul Larudee, a Free Gaza organizer, said it was "highly unlikely" that the Israeli navy would fire on the boats to stop them.
But he said the group expects Israeli authorities to intercept the boats and arrest those onboard.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas seized full control of Gaza in June 2007 after routing security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians are already largely confined to their narrow strip of land by Israeli and Egyptian border closures.
"Israel has an obligation towards the Palestinian people, being the occupying power," Eyad al-Saraj of the International Campaign to End the Siege said.
"Gaza has a collapsed economy, it is seriously deprived, dependent on charity ... unemployment is very high. The place is desparate, the people are desparate because this is really a kind of prison," he told Al Jazeera.
A trickle of people are still allowed to leave for medical care, jobs abroad and for the
annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Israel and Hamas have observed a fragile truce since June.